The Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjå interview

After one of the longest active racing careers in the sport of mountain biking, Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjå is stepping into ‘retirement’ and is looking ahead to new and exciting challenges alongside her long-standing partner MERIDA. 

We have got together with Gunn-Rita to shed some light onto her plans and to figure out if she can really step away from having a number board attached to her handlebars. 

MERIDA: Gunn-Rita, you had one of the longest active racing careers in mountain biking. Please turn the clock back and let us know when and how it all started for you.
GUNN-RITA: I did lots of different kind of sport when I grew up. Soccer, track and field, running, horseback riding, motor- cross, speed- skating, hiking…so I grew up as a very active girl in the countryside. In April 1995 I was asked to join a MTB training session in Sørmarka/Stavanger with a local MTB club. That is where it all started. I had no idea of the sport called MTB and I didn`t know at all what I was getting myself into…but the adrenaline from the first off-road downhill got me hooked from the very start. It was the perfect sport for me as I enjoyed the physical challenge while getting speed and adrenaline thrown in for good measure.

MERIDA: Besides having a long career, you probably also had one of the most, if not the most successful career in the sport, winning countless World Cups, as well as national, European and World Championships. Please give us a tally of your wins and successes. 
GUNN-RITA: After turning 35 years and being involved in such a hard and though sport, every extra year is a comeback and winning big international races is just far beyond your expectation. We did it over and over again. 

It is impossible for me to put one championship Gold above another? Each have its own story and that is very special for both of us. Winning our first European title back in August of 2002, the first international Gold medal for us but also for MERIDA, will always be special for us. I remember the entire race in detail. Then becoming the World Champion for the first time one month later in Kaprun will always be a strong memory. The Olympic Gold in 2004 Athens, a season where we won more or less all the races we took part in. Becoming the European Marathon champion ½ year after giving birth in 2009 was outstanding. Then winning the European Champs XCO in 2011 when most people said I was too old school for modern XC racing. I could go on for many more of all our 20 Gold medals from international championship racing. All Golds have a story to tell, and we are very proud of all of them.

MERIDA: Which of the aforementioned wins was the most important, the most difficult, the most memorable and the most unexpected?
GUNN-RITA: Perhaps the hardest one was the win of the UCI World Cup in Andorra last year. You have to work so hard every day, be so extremely dedicated every day and you just have to have the perfect day where it comes to race day. Nothing can be left to chance. We made a plan back in 2006 (after some glasses red wine) to win 10 World Championships titles and 30 World Cup races. At that time, we won more or less everything we took part in…it was more a crazy plan to find motivation for the upcoming years. Not sure if we really believed it was possible to achieve and to accomplishment at the time.

In 2007 I got sick with a stomach virus infection. I managed to come back and win the Marathon Worlds in 2008. I became a mother in march 2009 and it took me some time to come back on top level again in XCO. But this year, 2018, the mission was finally completed: 30 UCI World Cup wins and 10 x World Championships. A total of 20 international champion Golds. Proud and happy.

MERIDA: As we mentioned at the beginning, you are now stepping away from the active side of World Cup racing. What are your plans and ideas for the future?
GUNN-RITA: I would like to continue riding my bike, motivate and inspire people to enjoy cycling on all different levels, travel the world together with my bike and enjoy new single trails.

MERIDA: You will now focus more on being a brand ambassador, similar to your former teammate José Antonio Hermida, for MERIDA. What will that new role entail for you? 
GUNN-RITA: Totally new challenges and goals for sure, but it feels very right that I now can enjoy my sport with different challenges. Testing all kind of different bike, be out there just to explore new trails and be with people that love the sport like I do. I have no expectation when it comes to results… I will just enjoy our sport.

MERIDA: Knowing your competitive side, we are struggling to imagine that you will not stick a number board on your handlebars in the foreseeable future again. We know that you are not going to look at World Cup racing again, but please let us know if and what events and races you have on your 2019 calendar?
GUNN-RITA: No races in elite for me this year. I might do some marathon racing together with MERIDA family or just with a company that need some extra inspiration, but it feels actually fine with being an ambassador and not a racer anymore.

MERIDA: You always have tried to encourage more women to get involved in the sport. Have you got any specific projects planned in that area?
GUNN-RITA: Yes, I will be working for this mission for the upcoming years and things are in progress…can’t tell much more at this time.

MERIDA: We assume that your schedule will be less hectic and perhaps less filled with training time. What will you do with all that ‘free time’ on your hands? 
GUNN-RITA:GUNN-RITA: Oh, I do not see that free time yet but perhaps it will experience it one day. First of all, I will try to find this ‘Friday feeling’ that most people talk about. I have no clue what this is, but will for sure work on it!

MERIDA: And finally, as your focus on what cycling discipline you spend your time on is perhaps less restricted now, will you venture into some other forms of cycling? For example enduro riding/racing, e-bike or perhaps gravel? With MERIDA having very successful and highly regarded bikes in those segments (ONE-SIXTY, eONE-SIXTY, SILEX), we believe it might be an interesting excursion. 
GUNN-RITA: I think I will have to try everything now when I become and ambassador and that include testing and being involved in all kind of bikes and different forms of cycling. I embrace the new trails waiting for me out there. I will be out there exploring and enjoying our fantastic sport for many more years and test out much more within MTB-cycling.

Thank you very much for your time Gunn-Rita. We wish you all the best in your new and exciting roll and are looking forward to hearing more in the future.